When it comes to Indian food, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Curry.
While it’s wonderful that the world is well-aware of the Indian cuisine, there’s something that most of us often forget – ‘curry’ is not exactly Indian. Curry has debatable origins. Some say the British created it, whereas others argue it’s from Japan. And it most definitely shouldn’t be used to blanket the whole of Indian cuisine, especially because it changes every 100 kilometres and has different names to it. For example jhol, korma and salaan.
This is what 27-year-old Indian-American Instagram user Chaheti Bansal aims to educate her viewers about through her videos, which have over a millions views.
In a recent video that went viral, Bansal, who is also known as @rootedinspice, took it upon her to educate her viewers about “cancelling” the use of the word ‘curry’ when it comes to Indian cuisine, especially in the West.
Like Bansal, there are quite a few other social media users, Indian chefs and home cooks who have called people out on their extensive use of the word ‘curry’ as a label for all things Indian – all of which has led to a massive controversy.
How do our chefs feel about this?
Food by Gulf News was able to get in touch with Indian celebrity chef Ranveer Brar and a few UAE chefs who weighed in with their thoughts on the present debate.
Chef Ranveer said: “Curry to me represents any gravy that’s seasoned with spices, for which the British originally coined this term. In fact historical evidence shows that the presence of ‘curry’ as a dish, so to speak, has been there as far back as 4,000 years, much before the European influence. And not just within the Indian sub-continent, curry has several variations in South Asian cuisine in general too.
“Curry is a moniker used by the British to lump all gravy-based dishes under a single term for ease of address. Like Shakespeare would say, what’s in a name! The uniqueness and sheer variety of Indian dishes and the ever-increasing popularity and cognisance of them is what truly makes the dishes in particular and cuisine in general great.”
However, Brand Chef Rahil Aga of Art of Dum restaurant in Dubai felt the term curry should be changed into something more regional. He said: “Curry is a colloquial term lovingly given by the British to Indian food. Over the years Indian food has gained recognition as being classified as ‘curry’ globally. However this can be a bit misleading as most pan-Asian Cuisine are thin gravy-based dishes.
“In India, the gravy base can be made with many different ingredients, however the idea is for it to be of a liquid consistency. Water, yoghurt, tomato puree, and cream are a few examples of such ingredients. So, it should be called ‘kari’ or ‘tari’,” he said.
A legacy of British colonialism
Growing up in an Indian household meant that one would be in the midst of a whistling pressure cooker, the spluttering of mustard and cumin seeds, the aroma of spices and most importantly, the fragrance that comes from a freshly steamed bowl of rice.
But little did we know that all of this would be wrapped up under one umbrella term – curry. One of the main reasons behind this is mainly because when the British actually came to India, saying that it was a result of a misunderstanding or what would mostly be termed as lending a “bad” ear.
But of course, while the past continues to haunt those who are still debating over its origins, Bansal’s video has caught the eye of many.
Polarising British TV host Piers Morgan took it to his Twitter to comment on the on-going debate, where he said: “If the word ‘curry’ is now deemed to be racist, then I need to leave this planet with immediate effect.”
To cancel or not to cancel
With several people using the word “curry” to class almost every other Indian dish, people are finding it quite difficult to convince their peers – be it family, friends or colleagues – to stop doing the same. Some feel it’s about time the word gets cancelled, whereas others feel its best left unchanged, and this debate is just a waste of time.
Chef Ranveer said: “I totally agree that this debate is just a waste of time. If you know your food and are confident about it, it doesn’t really matter what people call it or think about it. We have to be confident about the cuisine we represent. It’s been there before us and it will be there after us. We should keep doing our bit of celebrating our cuisine while we can and not be ruffled by a play of words.
“Personally, I would not cancel the word curry from our culinary jargon. The British representation is just that, a representation, not the actual and not the only representation, in fact, it is the most recent one. My endeavour would be to take people further and deeper into history to understand our cuisine from the last 2,000 years, reasons for existence of certain dishes and the reasons for existence of curry too!”
Dubai-based Brand Executive Chef Sandeep Ail from Punjab Grill said: "In my opinion, before we go ahead and cancel the term curry completely, Indian chefs need to embrace regional nomenclature on their own menu. Dishes are still called Kerala Fish Curry that is ‘State or Region Name+ Protein+Curry’, which explains that this is a southern Indian dish of fish cooked and served with a sauce.
“This is partly a lazy move (I'm guilty too!) because servers would have to be trained exhaustively on regional Indian dishes. I’m pleased to see that a lot of restaurants are taking great efforts to train their team and educate diners on regional dishes and so we’ll be seeing a lot of Indian restaurant menus with dishes like Chapa Pulusu, Chingri Malaikori, Kori Rotti, Kola Urundai Kolumbu on the menu with chefs approaching diners to explain the dishes. Our diners have also seen India beyond the golden triangle of Delhi, Jaipur, Agra and have eaten at homes across India courtesy of food walks, food blogs online.
“Until Indian chefs take pride in regional dishes and showcase them at their restaurant, the term curry stays relevant!"
We can still unlearn… if need be
"There's a saying that the food in India changes every 100km, and yet we're still using this umbrella term…," Bansal said in her video. "But we can still unlearn."
While several users argue that the word should be retained, another majority says it shouldn’t. And that’s a debate, which could last a while before coming to a conclusion. But here’s what you can do next time in case you’re against the word ‘curry’…
“Could you pass the yellow curry?” It’s dal tadka.
“Could you pass the orange curry?” It’s paneer makhni or chicken tikka masala.
And for those of you in the mood for a good Indian gravy recipe, try out Chef Ranveer’s Dhaba style Chicken.
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